In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you and what’s your business?
My name is Lisa Barnett. I am in the baby biz! I am the co-founder and CMO of Little Spoon, a fresh, direct-to-your-door baby food company. We ship you fresh, organic, personalized meals for your baby so we can ensure he/she gets what is needed developmentally and nutritionally.
What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?
The word to me is synonymous with ‘hustler.’ As an entrepreneur, you cannot be afraid to put yourself and your ideas out there and figure out how to give them life. An entrepreneur accepts that you’re going to have to try 1,001 ways before something starts to work. And, she/he knows that overnight successes are mythical creatures. It’s funny, I think people often overemphasize ideation as the archetypical entrepreneurial activity. Ideas are great, but they are a dime a dozen. Having ideas doesn’t make you an entrepreneur. The real differentiator between ‘people with ideas’ and ‘entrepreneurs’ is how hard you can hustle and put the ideas to work.
What was your toughest challenge and how did you overcome it?
In general, I believe an entrepreneur’s toughest challenge is making decisions under ambiguous circumstances. It can be challenging because you can’t help but think about the potential ramifications to your business and your team if you’re wrong.
Though I am a first-time founder, this is a familiar feeling for me. I used to run cross-country and track at UPenn. I often never felt ready for a big race. Even after 12 seasons of competitive running and constant training, there was always something I felt unsure about. That I slept enough. That I stretched and iced enough. That I knew who else was in the race and how they were going to approach the competition. Thing is when the gun went off, that was it — I was running that 5K, and all I could do is trust that all the work that went into getting there would pay off.
During my time as a competitive distance runner, I learned three important things: 1) to accept that the feeling of uncertainty is a constant, 2) that in order to cope with it, you have to have unrelenting confidence not that you will always be right, but that you will always figure it out, and 3) to forget about making mistakes, and focus on just getting out there and trying.
What trait do you depend on most when making decisions?
I usually have a gut feel on what decision I think I’ll make, but I like to validate my gut — or hypothesis — by taking in lots of information before making a final decision. I don’t mean taking in just data (though I love that when possible), but also hearing other people’s opinions, reading about the broader context in which the decision lies, etc. When I was working in venture capital, a big mistake I saw a lot of founders make was not recognizing or accepting that they had blind spots. It’s easy to operate in a bubble and feel like you know your customer best, so I try to force myself out of my own head.
How has your leadership style evolved?
I have always led by example. I never like expecting things from people that I wouldn’t do myself. And everyone is different, so I want to be sure that in addition to leading by example, I am also directly tailoring my style to help best empower them to drive results (and enjoy the work). It’s a constant learning process, but managing people is probably one of the most important things a founder has to do so it’s worth the effort!
Is there a particular quote or saying that you use as personal motivation?
I have two current favorites – Thomas Edison, who said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” And Reid Hoffman, who said: “An entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down.”
These both inspire me because they show that the entrepreneurial journey is not linear. Mistakes are inevitable but in no way detrimental. They also remind me to focus on being resourceful and solving problems — which is ultimately the daily role of an entrepreneur.